Illuminator vs Highlighter: Which is Best?

In the world of makeup, achieving that flawless, luminous complexion is a goal shared by many. To attain this coveted glow, makeup enthusiasts turn to various products, including illuminators and highlighters.

These two products might seem similar at first glance, but they serve different purposes and can make or break your makeup game. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the differences, uses, and benefits of illuminator vs highlighter, helping you make an informed choice for your makeup routine.

The Basics: Illuminator vs Highlighter


An illuminator, also known as a luminizer, is a makeup product designed to add a radiant and dewy glow to your skin. It’s typically formulated with light-reflecting particles, such as mica or pearl powder, which create a subtle sheen when applied. Illuminators are available in various forms, including liquid, cream, and powder, allowing you to choose the texture that suits your preferences and skin type.

Why Choose an Illuminator?

Illuminators are perfect for achieving an all-over luminous look. They provide a soft, natural glow and can be applied to your entire face or mixed with foundation for a more subtle radiance.


A highlighter, on the other hand, is designed to accentuate specific areas of your face by adding a concentrated, intense shine. It typically comes in a compact form with a powder or cream texture. Highlighters contain shimmering particles that catch the light, emphasizing the high points of your face like the cheekbones, brow bone, and the bridge of the nose.

Why Choose a Highlighter?

Highlighters are ideal for creating a dramatic, defined glow. They enhance your bone structure and add a touch of sparkle to specific areas, making them stand out.

The Application: How to Use Illuminators and Highlighters

Illuminator Application

Preparation is Key: Start with a well-moisturized and primed face to ensure a smooth application.

Select Your Formula: Choose a liquid, cream, or powder illuminator, considering your skin type and personal preference.

Placement: Apply the illuminator to the high points of your face, such as the cheekbones, cupid’s bow, and the center of your forehead. You can also blend it with your foundation for an all-over glow.

Blend with Fingers or a Brush: Gently blend the illuminator into your skin using your fingers or a makeup brush, ensuring there are no harsh lines.

Set with Powder: To prevent excessive shine, set the illuminator with a translucent powder, focusing on the T-zone.

Highlighter Application

Choose the Right Shade: Select a highlighter shade that complements your skin tone. Champagne and gold tones work well for most.

Areas to Highlight: Focus on the high points of your face: cheekbones, brow bone, inner corners of the eyes, and down the bridge of your nose.

Application Technique: Use a fan brush or a small makeup brush to apply the highlighter in a C-shape from your temple to your cheekbone.

Blend Carefully: Gently blend the product into your skin, ensuring it seamlessly merges with your foundation.

Avoid Overdoing It: Less is often more with highlighter. Build it up gradually to achieve the desired level of radiance.

Illuminator vs Highlighter: When to Choose Which

Daytime Look

Illuminator: For a fresh, daytime look, opt for an illuminator. Its subtle glow provides a natural appearance, making it perfect for the office or a casual outing.

Nighttime Glam

Highlighter: When you’re aiming for a glamorous, nighttime look, reach for a highlighter. Its intense shine adds a touch of drama, making you the star of the evening.

Special Occasions

Both: On special occasions, you can combine the two for a radiant effect. Apply the illuminator all over for a luminous base and highlight specific areas with a highlighter for added sparkle.

Skin Type Matters

Illuminator: If you have dry or mature skin, illuminators are your best friend. They provide hydration and minimize the appearance of fine lines.

Highlighter: Oily skin types may prefer highlighters as they are less likely to exacerbate shine. However, use them sparingly to avoid looking greasy.

Skin Tone Considerations

Fair Skin

Illuminator: Those with fair skin should opt for light pink or pearl-toned illuminators to enhance their natural complexion.

Highlighter: A soft champagne or light gold highlighter will complement fair skin beautifully.

Medium Skin

Illuminator: Peach or champagne-toned illuminators work well to add warmth and radiance to medium skin tones.

Highlighter: Choose a golden or rose gold highlighter to accentuate your features.

Dark Skin

Illuminator: Deep copper or bronze-toned illuminators can bring out the best in darker skin tones.

Highlighter: Rich bronze or coppery highlighters can create a stunning effect on dark skin.

The Makeup Bag Essentials: Illuminator vs Highlighter

Illuminator Must-Haves

Liquid Illuminator: Perfect for mixing with foundation.

Cream Illuminator: Ideal for a natural, dewy finish.

Powder Illuminator: Sets makeup and enhances the glow.

Highlighter Must-Haves

Powder Highlighter: Easy to apply and blend.

Cream Highlighter: Offers a more intense shine.

Palette: Contains various shades for versatility.

Top Brands to Explore


Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector: Known for its iconic shade “Champagne Pop.”

NARS Illuminator: Offers a wide range of colors to suit different skin tones.

Benefit High Beam: A cult favorite for achieving a radiant complexion.


Fenty Beauty Killawatt Freestyle Highlighter: Loved for its buildable intensity.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Amrezy Highlighter: Provides an ultra-reflective finish.

Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder: Perfect for a soft, diffused glow.

Difference Between Highlighter and Bronzer

Highlighter: The Glow Enhancer

Purpose: A highlighter is a makeup product designed to add luminosity and emphasis to specific areas of your face by attracting light. It is used to create a radiant, dewy look, enhancing your bone structure and brightening your complexion.

Texture: Highlighters are available in various forms, including powder, cream, and liquid. The choice of texture depends on your personal preference and the overall makeup look you want to achieve.

Application Areas:

Cheekbones: Applying highlighter along your cheekbones adds definition and a youthful glow.

Brow Bone: Highlighting the brow bone accentuates your eyes and gives a lifted appearance.

Inner Corners of Eyes: This area can make your eyes appear larger and more awake.

Bridge of the Nose: Applying highlighter down the bridge of your nose creates a slimming effect.

Cupid’s Bow: Enhancing your cupid’s bow adds volume and definition to your lips.

Shades: Highlighters come in a variety of shades, with popular options being champagne, gold, rose gold, and iridescent hues. Choose a shade that complements your skin tone for the best results.

Bronzer: The Sun-Kissed Enhancer

Purpose: Bronzer is used to add warmth and a sun-kissed effect to your complexion. It mimics the look of a tan or a day spent in the sun and is applied to areas that the sun naturally hits.

Texture: Bronzers are primarily available in powder form and can vary in shades, with matte and shimmer options.

Application Areas

Forehead: Applying bronzer to the forehead creates a sun-kissed look.

Cheekbones: Lightly contouring the cheekbones with bronzer adds dimension to your face.

Jawline: Defining the jawline with bronzer enhances your bone structure.

Nose: Some people like to apply bronzer along the sides of the nose for a slimmer appearance.

Neck and Décolletage: To ensure a consistent, natural look, you can extend bronzer to the neck and chest area.

Shades: Bronzers come in a range of shades, from light to deep, to cater to different skin tones. Matte bronzers are used for contouring, while shimmer bronzers provide a radiant, glowing effect.


Q: Can I use an illuminator and a highlighter together?

A: Absolutely! For a stunning, multidimensional glow, apply the illuminator first and then add the highlighter to specific areas.

Q: Are these products suitable for all skin types?

A: While illuminators are great for dry skin, highlighters are better for oily skin. However, with the right technique, both can be used for any skin type.

Q: Can I wear illuminator or highlighter without foundation?

A: Yes, you can use them on bare skin for a natural, radiant look.

Q: Do I need different brushes for applying these products?

A: It’s recommended to use separate brushes for illuminators and highlighters to achieve precise application.

Q: Can I use illuminator or highlighter on body parts other than the face?

A: Yes, these products can be applied to the collarbone, shoulders, and legs to enhance your overall glow.


In the ongoing battle of Illuminator vs Highlighter, there’s no clear winner because they serve distinct purposes in the world of makeup. Your choice ultimately depends on the look you want to achieve and your specific skin type. Experimenting with both illuminators and highlighters can lead to stunning results, so don’t hesitate to explore and find what works best for you.

Whether you’re going for a natural radiance or a dazzling evening look, both of these products can be powerful tools in your makeup arsenal. Embrace the glow and shine on, beauties!